Whatever anyone says or thinks of him, one fact is incontrovertible about Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, CON, SAN, former governor of Lagos State: He obviously brought seriousness to the governance process in Lagos. With a methodical and studied approach, he brought decorum to the chaotic Lagos environment. For eight years, he was the no-nonsense governor, who sought to make meaning out of the forest of insanity. He brought down houses that contravened physical planning laws; shut down companies that didn’t think much of environmental compliance, and cleaned up Oshodi, the dark symbol of all that was wrong with Lagos. With a rigorous monitoring of tax inflows, Lagos was booming in cash and projects. Fashola’s sun shone brightly, as he was hailed all over the country and beyond as ‘the governor of example.’ Example of how good governance ought to be, in a country ruined by tunnel-vision eaters masquerading as leaders!
Even though his adversaries claimed that he was ‘hyped’ and only excelled in the environmental transformation of the state, no one can deny that he left his mark in the annals of the Lagos space. He was also criticized for running an elitist government, which means government dedicated to the welfare and convenience of the bourgeois class, even as they alluded to the transformation of Lagos Island, Lekki, among others to the detriment of the areas populated by the hoi poloi, the masses, the socially and economically deprived.
Till his last day in office, I am sure he fought hard to shake off the toga of an elitist governor. I am not too sure he succeeded in doing that. He was often at pains explaining and trying to extricate himself from that charge. He insists he was governor of all Lagosians: The rich, the average, the poor and the wretched. He says he did for Lekki, what he did for Mushin; for Ikeja, what he did for Yaba; for Ikorodu what he did for Épe. Whether he is right or wrong in his personal assessment of his governance style is left for the people and posterity to judge.
I saw Fashola’s discomfort at being dubbed ‘elitist governor’ first hand at a dinner organized to introduce the man who eventually took over from him, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. It was held at the Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos, and had in attendance the cream of the media. I was actually the person who provoked that sore point when, during the interactive session, I asked him if he was aware of the widespread perception and if he accepted the characterization? In an emotion-laden voice, he said: “I reject that charge!” He then sought to deconstruct what he called the fallacy of those who mischievously tar him with the elitist brush. He claimed to have even started bridge constructions in lowly areas of Lagos before the so-called elite areas. And all had the same standards! Where then was the discrimination against the poor?
For a question that couldn’t have taken up to three minutes, Fashola spent over 20 minutes trying to convince his audience that he hadn’t been an elitist governor. As I watched him sweat through the question, I thought of informing him that the man who posed the question (me) had no strong standing to do so, having never really lived in Lagos in the past 13 years or so. How then was I to say for sure if he was elitist or not? I was only just mirroring the
popular perception. No matter, Fashola waded through it.
I have only narrated the above story to show how serious the former governor takes his legacy. He and his teeming admirers believe he has discharged his duties faithfully, diligently and superbly in the eight years he was in the saddle. They would stop at nothing to protect and defend the integrity of the Fashola administration.
But that legacy and integrity are being called to question by reports of alleged malfeasance of the former Lagos helmsman. All sorts of allegations, including over-invoicing to outright larceny are being hurled at his doorsteps. A group, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, insists vehemently that Fashola has not been as upright as he is being presented publicly. It swears he has looted Lagos with a straight face. That the Fashola perception, as a man of integrity, has been a smokescreen and a facade. It has brandished figures of how two or three boreholes were inflated to the tune of N136m. Bridges built at allegedly ballooned figures. There was also another group that accused the former Lagos state CEO of building a personal website at the state’s expense, to the tune of N78m. CACOL says it is ready to expose other alleged financial recklessness of the governor!
Of course, Fashola has stoutly debunked the charges. In a personally signed statement, he alluded to a smear campaign by a group and their sponsors bent on denting his personal image and public record. He said he would not dignify them with a fight because ‘when you fight with a pig, the pig is happy and you are dirty.’
I have read the allegations and the response. I have also tried to take cognizance of what could have been the likely motive and undertone behind the allegations. Politics, yes. Attempt to block his being appointed into Buhari’s cabinet? Not unlikely. But are there unanswered questions? Yes.
Of course, everyone knows how fierce the battle for the soul of Lagos has been over the years. Right from the day he was drafted into Lagos politics by the owner of the game in Lagos and Southwest, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed TInubu, Fashola has faced all kinds of onslaught. He was seen as the pampered outsider crowned by a powerful godfather. But he won many hearts when he thrust himself into the furnace (of governance ) with all his heart and might, giving it a new verve. Even though the state was quite liquid during Fashola’s tenure, no one could deny his passion and drive.
His legendary bust up with Tinubu over alleged conflict of personal interests almost led to the truncation of his second term bid. Then, a group, The True Face of Lagos, alleged monumental fleecing of the commonwealth by Fashola, and concluded that he was not fit for second term. A rapprochement between the feuding parties and his perceived good works in the state, ensured his reelection. His attempt to pick his own successor as opposed to his godfather’s plan, also brought its own rancour, which was somewhat fixed, leading to the emergence of Ambode. Some have said that Ambode may be having his pound of flesh over Fashola’s initial reluctance to support him, by releasing official records of alleged sleaze during Fashola’s era.
There are also insinuations that Fashola’s closeness to Buhari had made Tinubu quite uncomfortable, and CACOL’s latest exposé was simply to alert Buhari that Fashola was not the saint he pretends to be. There has been media speculation of plans to appoint Fashola Secretary to Government or Chief of Staff or minister. And this allegedly has not gone down well with Asiwaju, who wants new kids from the Southwest.
All these have been some of the scenarios built around the Fashola issue since it became public discourse. Where do I stand on this issue? Here is my candid view: Mr Fashola has not given enough explanations on the allegations. If he doesn’t do so, he would be arming those who, he says, are bent on denting his image. I don’t believe it is enough to allude to political or malicious intent as he has done in his response to his traducers. In a country where people believe the worst of their leaders, Fashola can’t afford to treat the accusations against him with levity or wave of the hand. If I were him, I would respond to the issues point by point, one after the other, with facts and figures. I would seek to prove that I led, with verifiable transparency and integrity. I would even drag the accusers to court for seeking to soil my hard-earned reputation. I would sue them to their last dime. As a learned silk, am sure Fashola knows what to do in a case of defamation, if he strongly believes he has been defamed.
For the sake of his admirers and all those who believe he was governor of example, Fashola should lead by example by fully opening up on the allegation of over-invoicing on many projects undertaken during his administration. That is the only way to shout down and shut up all those who say Fashola is not what he claims to be. Fashola has a duty to prove them wrong, if he believes they are wrong. Do it, BRF!